John Bradford - Manchester’s Protestant Martyr

1510 to 1555

John Bradford - Manchester's Protestant Martyr

John Bradford, Protestant martyr, burned at the steak at Smithfield in London on 1st July 1555 at the age of 45. He was born in Blackley, Manchester in 1510 and was educated at Manchester Grammar School. He retained strong links with the Manchester area right up until his death.

John Bradford, Prebendary of St. Paul’s and Chaplain to Bishop Ridley, was born at Blackley in what is now Manchester, about the year 1510. Bradford became at a later period in his life a servant to Sir John Harrington, of Exton in Rutlandshire, who experienced Bradford’s ability as a writer and as an auditor. He was faithful and trustworthy not only in those affairs but in many other aspects of his employer’s private business. Harrington trusted Bradford and at the siege of Montreuil in 1544, Bradford occupied the office of paymaster under Sir John Harrington.

Three years later, not long after the accession of Edward VI, on 8th April 1547, Bradford entered the Inner Temple as a student of common law, where his character underwent a complete change, 
In 1574 in his preface to Bradford’s works, Sampson, his friend and fellow student at the temple writes regarding Bradford’s great transformation - “I did not know when, and partly how, it pleased God, by effectual calling, to turn his heart unto the true knowledge and obedience of the most holy Gospel of Christ our Saviour; of which God did give him such an heavenly hold and lively feeling, that, as he did then know that many sins were forgiven him, so surely he declared by deeds that he loved much. For where he had both gifts and calling to have employed himself in civil and worldly affairs profitably, such was his love of Christ and zeal to promoting of his glorious Gospel, that he changed not only the course of his former life, as the woman did in Luke 7, but even his former study as Paul changed his former profession and study.”

At Cambridge, Bradford became intimate with Bucer, Sandays and Ridley and was tutor to Whitgift, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury. He was ordained by Ridley in 1550 and strongly recommended to King Edward VI on account of his talents and piety. Shortly afterwards upon Ridley’s advice, the King appointed him to be one of the six royal chaplains who were sent about England, with a kind of roving commission to preach upon the doctrines of the Reformation.
Bradford’s commission was to preach in Lancashire and Cheshire, being connected with those counties.
He preached constantly in Manchester, Liverpool, Bolton, Bury, Wigan, Ashton, Stockport, Middleton and Chester, with great benefit to the cause of Protestantism.
Tradition states that during his last visit to Manchester, in Blackley Bradford knelt down and made solemn supplication to Almighty God. His request at the Throne of Grace was that the everlasting Gospel might be preached in Blackley to the end of time, by ministers divinely taught to feed the flock with wisdom and knowledge.

Bradford would freely reprove any sin and misbehaviour which appeared in any person, especially swearers, filthy talkers, and Popish praters, Such never departed out of his company unreported.
The consequence of Bradford’s zeal for the principal of the Reformation was that upon the death of Edward VI and within a month of the accession of Queen Mary he was put into prison. Like Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer and Hooper, and never left it until he was burned.
His singular holiness, and great reputation as a preacher, made him an object of great interest during his imprisonment, and immense efforts were made to reason him out of his Protestantism, and pervert him to the Romanish Church, All these efforts, however, were in vain. As he lived, so he died.
Sentence of condemnation was passed, 31st January 1555. Plans to have the Earl of Derby convey Bradford into Lancashire and there to be burned in Manchester, where he was born were later abandoned.

On the day of Bradford’s execution he was led out from Newgate to Smithfield at about nine o’clock in the morning of the 1st of July 1555 amidst a large crowd of people.
When he was informed by the wife of his keeper that he was to be burned and would soon be taken to Newgate prison, Foxe states that Master Bradford put of his cap, and lifting up his eyes to Heaven said, “I thank God for it; I have looked for the same a long time, and therefore it cometh not now to me suddenly, but as a thing waited for every day and hour; the Lord make me worthy thereof.” Thanking her for her gentleness, he departed up into his chamber, and called his friend with him, and after he had come, he went secretly himself alone and prayed for a long time.
Before leaving, Bradford dressed himself in a clean shirt, that was made for his burning and when leaving gave money to every servant and officer of the house, with the exhortation to them to fear and serve God. That done, he turned to face the wall, and prayed vehemently, that his words might not be spoken in vain.

They carried him to Newgate at about eleven or twelve o’clock at night, when it was thought that there would be no one about, but contrary to their expectations a great multitude of people came to see him, which most gently bade him farewell
It was at nine o’clock before John Bradford was brought into Smithfield from Newgate, Bradford on reaching the spot where he was to be burned fell flat to the ground on one side of the streak, secretly making his prayers to Almighty God, along side him was a young man, an apprentice, John Leaf on the other side of the streak.
On rising he then took a faggot in his hand, and kissed it, and so likewise the steak.
Holding up his hands and looking up to heaven he said

O England, England, repent thee of thy sins, repent thee of thy sins. Beware idolatry, beware of false antichrists: take head they do not deceive you.” turning to the young man that suffered with him he said “Be of good comfort, brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night.”.
He endured the flames wrote Fuller “As a fresh gale of wind in a hot summer day” and so in the prime of life John Bradford passed away.

An Orange Lodge named in memory of John Bradford, L.O.L. 627, met in Church House on Deansgate, on the last Friday of every month up and until 1926.

John Bradford Statuette on Manchester Cathedral John Bradford Memorial at Manchester Cathedral John Bradford Memorial

Other historical pages:

Sergeant Charles Brett - the cowardly killing of a Manchester Policeman 

William John Austin - Notable Victorian Manchester Orangeman
William Touchstone - Prominant Manchester Orangeman
Reverend Thomas Dickinson - Grand Chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of England from 1905-1920.
Signing of The Ulster Covenant in Manchester - 28th September 1912






Manchester Orange

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